Zhang Jun: The Man Chosen by Destiny To Quell a Rebellion

Chinese painting showing people on horseback quickly riding out from a village outpost.

Battles and rebellions seemingly become inevitable as a dynasty enters its decline. (Image: Lin Yang via Dreamstime)

Time is ever-changing, as are the states of affairs in the world. Battles and rebellions seemingly become inevitable as a dynasty enters its decline. However, the key figures playing crucial roles in these turbulent times — the generals and the ministers — seem to be chosen by destiny. Such was the case involving Zhang Jun. Their ability to overcome enemies often comes from the guidance of wise hermits who are attuned to the rhythm of the universe. With the help of these wise figures, turning danger into safety no longer feels like a mere fairy tale.

Zhang Jun: Quelling rebellion through divine will

Zhang Jun lived in the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty. He spent his early years living in seclusion on Jinfeng Mountain. During the reign of Emperor Xizong of Tang, Yang Fugong, the Director of the Secretariat, recognized his talents and recommended him to the court. Zhang Jun was appointed to the Ministry of Rites and was soon promoted to an official position outside the Ministry of Finance.

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At that time, the rebel leader Huang Chao was rapidly approaching the capital. To avoid danger, Zhang Jun resigned from his official post, taking his mother and clan to Shangzhou. Later, they relocated to a village in Yongle County, Hubei Prefecture, where Zhang led a tranquil and carefree life.

Zhang Jun took his mother and clan to a village in Hubei Prefecture where he led a tranquil and carefree life.
Zhang Jun took his mother and clan to a village in Hubei Prefecture where he led a tranquil and carefree life. (Image: Katoosha via Dreamstime)

An unexpected encounter and a mysterious prediction

In the village, there was a Taoist priest greatly respected by the locals. One day, as Zhang Jun was walking, he heard a voice from behind him: “Mr. Zhang, the 34th of your clan, the emperor is waiting for you to defeat the rebels!” Zhang was surprised. He had been living in seclusion for many years, and he couldn’t believe anyone could know his familial ranking so well. Turning around, he saw the priest and, sensing that he was no ordinary person, asked: “I am merely a commoner, how could the emperor possibly expect me to quell a rebellion?”

Despite Zhang’s doubts, the Taoist priest urged him to go to Sichuan and wait for the right moment. Zhang Jun was hesitant because his mother was ill, and he was reluctant to leave her behind. Seeing his distress, the priest handed him two medicinal pills and said: “Let your mother take these, they will keep her well for ten years.” He immediately gave the pills to his mother, and before long, her illness was cured.

Following destiny into the heart of chaos

After Zhang entered Sichuan, he learned that Emperor Xizong had also fled the capital due to the chaos. The emperor and his party were running out of food, so he asked the local county magistrate, Li Kang, to send hundreds of bags of dry food to ease the emperor’s plight.

Surprised and grateful, Emperor Xizong summoned Li Kang and asked: “How could a county magistrate be so thoughtful?” Li Kang replied humbly: “I am just a minor local official and should not be making offerings. But Mr. Zhang urged me to do so, hence I am here.” The Emperor then summoned Zhang Jun and appointed him an official in the Ministry of War, later promoting him to be a Grand Counselor.

During the winter of that year, the chaos caused by Huang Chao intensified. The court had to summon troops from various regions. At the time, Wang Jingwu, the military governor of Pinglu, had the strongest forces, but he refused to deploy his troops. Thus, Prime Minister Wang Duo appointed Zhang Jun as the overseer to convince Wang Jingwu.

A map of China showing battles and troop movements during Huang Chao's uprising in the Tang Dynasty.
During the winter of that year, the chaos caused by Huang Chao intensified. (Image: SY via Wikimedia)

Confronting disloyalty and inspiring unity

Upon hearing that Wang had surrendered to Huang Chao and refused even to meet the emperor’s envoy, Zhang Jun confronted him: “Your duty is to serve and protect the emperor. The emperor has now sent an order, yet you dismiss it casually, neglecting the sacred bond between a ruler and his subject. If you disregard this fundamental principle, how can you possibly command your soldiers and care for your people?” Ashamed, Wang Jingwu quickly apologized and admitted his mistake.

After the imperial decree was read, the generals and soldiers from Pinglu remained silent and reluctant to respond. Observing this, Zhang Jun gathered the leaders and appealed to them earnestly: “As subjects, it is our duty to be loyal and righteous. Reflect on the consequences of defying or following divine will. How can it be right to abandon the emperor and pledge allegiance to a commoner like Huang Chao, who used to be a salt merchant?

“At this moment, all lords across the country are responding to the emperor’s call, yet you remain indifferent, watching for outcomes. When peace is restored, where will you stand? The return of the emperor to the palace is imminent. Don’t forsake the approaching peace and prosperity, and put yourself in jeopardy, earning the stigma of disloyalty and injustice!”

Zhang’s passionate appeal finally moved the leaders, who acknowledged his wisdom to Wang Jingwu, saying: “The Grand Counselor is right!”

The aftermath: Rebellion quelled and a return to peace

Once the Pinglu army agreed to deploy, morale within the imperial court soared. Not long after, the rebellion led by Huang Chao was quelled, and Zhang Jun’s status rapidly ascended until he became a high-ranking minister. When he finally returned to the village, the Taoist priest had vanished without a trace.

Translated by Joseph Wu

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